Musings of a Cubs Fan (Part II: Carlos Zambrano)

Big Z Bashing a Gatorade Cooler: NOT a Bad Thing

Big Z Bashing a Gatorade Cooler: NOT a Bad Thing

So I was reading a sports blog written by two of my friends from high school, when I came across this article:  http://www.downswinging.com/wordpress/2009/06/zambrano-to-retirein-a-few-years/, which, paired with pieces like this and this have caused me to reach the breaking point.  I am really sick of people ripping on Carlos Zambrano from everything ranging from his attitude to his interaction with the media.  The fact of the matter is: the man produces great numbers every single year, so get off his goddamn back.

It seems that everyone loves to point out that Carlos is a loose cannon who is overly emotional and who needs to mature, etc.    However, they seem to ignore the fact that for all his antics on and off the field, Carlos has been the most dependable player on the Cubs roster since 2002.  Also, they ignore the fact that these “tantrums” are not born out of immaturity–they are the result of an unrivaled competitiveness and passion for winning and the game of baseball.  On the pitching side of things, he is always prepared for his starts to such a point that the Cubs have asked him to tone down his routine (especially his consumption of red bull) on the days when he starts.   He does not lack focus, like some people think he does.  And unlike other pitchers, Carlos takes as much pride in his hitting as he does in his pitching.  He wants to be good in all aspects of the game and his desire to be an excellent all-around player is evident when you look at his offensive numbers.  Carlos is not an automatic out like nearly all other pitchers and last season, you could argue that he was more dangerous than the likes of Fukudome (in the 2nd half of the season) and Theriot.  His complete mastery of the game could not have been achieved if he was not a dedicated professional.  If he lacks “focus” and “maturity” like some people think, then how the hell did he become the ace of the Cubs staff, a perennial Cy Young candidate, and one of the best pitchers in game?

Carlos is easily the most competitive and professional player on the Cubs roster and as such, I really do not mind his on-field incidents.  They show me that he has high expectations for himself: he wants to pitch well and win every time he goes out on the hill.  When he starts to bash Gatorade coolers, yell at umps, break bats over his knee, and fight Michael Barrett, he is releasing all the anger and frustration that is created from a poor day on the hill or in the batter’s box.  He is angry at himself for a lackluster display and for letting the team down. It is not the cry for attention or display of immaturity that people think when they see it, it is the ultimate sign of a competitor who demands nothing short of the absolute best.

And since he took the league by storm with his sensational 2002 season, Carlos has been nothing short of “the absolute best”.  He is the perfect model for consistency and durability during the course of the season.  He hasn’t posted an ERA over 4.00 since his 2001 season, when he was a 20 year old rookie who pitched just 7 and 2/3 innings and posted an ugly 15.26 ERA during a very premature stint with the Cubs.  Furthermore, since he was moved to the rotation full time in mid 2002, he has been able to take the ball every 5th day and eat up innings.  Most young arms cannot handle the immense strain that manager Dusty Baker subjected Zambrano to (ie. Mark Prior and Kerry Wood), but Big Z managed to stay healthy, defy the odds, and continue to pitch excellently.  It is only recently that he has had to deal with any sort of injury issues, but even injuries have not affected his performance on the mound.

Though he has a tendency to lose his feel for the strike zone and thus build up massive pitch counts and walk batters, he is able to get out of jams by either striking the batter out (his career K/9 ratio is an impressive 7.76 batters per 9 innings) or by getting ground balls with his heavy, bowling ball-esque sinker, 2-seamer, splitter and slider.    He excels at keeping the ball in the park, a feat which is even more impressive when you witness how much like Coors Field Wrigley can be when the wind is blowing out like it usually is.  Despite all the walks, though, Zambrano still has a very respectable career WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) of 1.29.  Ignoring this season (which is not finished) and his 2001 and 2002 seasons (where he was a raw 21/22 year old pitcher who had been promoted very aggressively throughout the Cubs minor league system and thus had only accumluated around 460 innings in the minors since he was signed as a 17 year old out of Venezuela), he has posted WHIPs of 1.33 or under in every season.

Big Z may have emotional and sometimes violent blowups, which are invariably blown out of proportion and become the source for severe criticism, but that does not deny how good of a player he is.  People focus on these supposedly negative incidents and thus tend to forget how dominant of a pitcher (and hitter by pitcher standards) he really is.  They see the outpouring of emotion as a negative action, when in fact, it is really a positive.  It proves just how badly he wants to win and how committed he is to ending the Cubs title drought.  So to all his critics, i say: “please, for the love of God, give Zambrano the fair treatment he deserves by focusing on more than just his outbursts”.

3 Responses to Musings of a Cubs Fan (Part II: Carlos Zambrano)

  1. bullpenbrian says:

    I agree Big Z is super talented.

    In fact, I think Carlos is so talented he should be criticized more for his lack of professionalism.

    There’s no reason Zambrano shouldn’t win more than 20 games a year. And, we agree that he’s that good.

    But, as Steve Stone has pointed out, Zambrano is one of the lazier Cubs players, and his lack of mental stability keeps him from achieving his potential.

    I side with Stone’s views.

    Remember, just because Z is passionate about the game doesn’t mean it’s OK to act a fool on the field.

    And let’s not pretend Zambrano is the only major leaguer who’s passionate about winning and losing.

    MLB ballplayers are paid professionals…they should act like it (most do), Z included.

    The latest ejection with Z throwing the baseball into left field and tossing the umpire is bush league…there’s no sugar coating the matter.

    If this was tolerable behavior Zambrano wouldn’t have apologized, either.

    Yet unfortunately, this is just one example from Carlos’ past performances.

    You’re naive to think these antics don’t stem from a lack of maturity. They most certainly do.

    It’s time to stop apologizing for Zambrano. Instead, hold the guy a accountable for his sophomoric actions.

    If anything, the Cubs are paying Z big-time money to be the staff’s Ace, and to this point he hasn’t performed or carried himself like one in my opinion.

    Despite his numbers being good, even outstanding at times, Zambrano could, and should be a better player.

    When you’re paying a guy top-dollar there’s nothing wrong with asking more of him.

    At the very least, Zambrano can tone down the antics and begin channeling his passion into more wins.

    After all, that’s what the Cubs are paying him for…not his hitting and not his on field circus acts.

    I appreciate that you come strong in this article, make some good points and stand up for a guy you feel is being wronged.

    Doesn’t mean we have to agree, but I respect your opinions. Look forward to reading more of your posts!

    • swinginsoriano says:

      While I can see where you and most others are coming from, my main issue is that I feel that people tend to overblow his tantrums and ignore his good performances as a result.

      Perhaps I didn’t make that point fully clear, but that my focus. I wasn’t trying to apologize for his incidents necessarily, as I agree that they can be excessive and immature at times, but I was merely saying that they aren’t totally negative like people tend to think. I love to see my guys get fired up because that shows that the heart and desire is there. Sometimes, an ejection is all it takes to wake a team up and get things moving. It also shows that he is not dogging it or just going through the motions, a vibe a lot of players give of.

      I worry that asking him to tone down his emotions would take away from his game and make him less competitive on the mound. He is a very high energy guy and to ask him to radically change his routine and mound presence could have poor consequences, especially when he has already established himself in the majors.

      Because his outbursts are very visible and attract attention, people tend to only associate Zambrano with that side of his game as opposed to his actual pitching. Very rarely is it that we see a postively-oriented article about Zambrano and I was merely trying to draw attention to this fact.

      I appreciate the feedback!

  2. oog says:

    Steve Stone doesn’t know jack fucking squat about Carlos Zambrano’s work ethic. Every single one of these ballplayers busts there ass every damn day. The idea that one of the better players of the game isn’t working hard isn’t just lazy and presumptuous on Stone’s part but RACIST.

    That’s right, it’s RACIST to always describe Latino players as lazy.

    Who the hell is Steve Stone to tell anyone that Zambrano could be a better player? Zambrano has only been the best Cubs pitcher of the last decade, the face of the franchise, a complete player who frequently flirts with no-hitters (and got one) and who frequently wins games by combining all three of hitting, pitching, and fielding, and who has become one of the Cubs better pitchers EVER.

    I can’t believe such an incredible competitor and athlete can’t get a break in this town. But in particular, it disgusts me that all the criticism toward him is because of some characterization of him that is just as much a creation of the media as his own.

    Z already does channel his passion into more wins. He has 100 of them.

    By the way, he tossed the umpire because THE UMP BUMPED him.

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